In Preaching & Teaching

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2 (NIV)

There is a little button on our electronic devices of which we’re all aware.  It’s called the Pause button.  It’s really not as new as you might think.  I’ll confirm my dinosaur status by saying I remember back in the days of cassette tape how I loved this feature on a cassette player!  For the first time that I knew of, we had the ability to easily pause the music or perhaps stop, rewind, and replay a piece so we could better understand the lyrics or appreciate a special note or key change.  Pause buttons seemed even better when they allowed us to stop a movie or a show due to an interruption.  Though frustrated by an inconvenient interruption at a great theatrical moment, we could hit pause and then resume at a time when we could refocus.

Sometimes life throws unexpected situations in our paths that are frustrating in the moment and requires us to hit “pause.”  Our attention is drawn away from what we want to be doing to something else.  Sometimes that something else is a shift from “doing” to simply “being.”  It is in those moments, or hours, or days of pause (or perhaps even longer as in cases of world-wide pandemics) that simply “being” moves us to a different space in our humanity.

Recently, my husband and I had an unplanned “pause” experience.  We were on a trip to Alaska that started with an inland tour of the state, which was to be followed by a sea cruise.  We had taken all the required pre-trip precautions—vaccines, boosters, negative COVID tests.  Then prior to boarding the ship, one last COVID test was required.  A couple days prior my husband seemed to have caught a cold—something common for him when we travel because of chronic sinus issues he developed years ago as a pilot flying long international routes.  Unfortunately, this time it was not just a cold.  Our trip was “paused” when we both tested positive for COVID.  The cruise line handled things very well, but unlike a TV show that can be restarted at the same point of interruption without any change, life is simply not that way.  We would not be continuing on to the sea cruise.  Instead, we went into isolation, had flu-like symptoms for a few days (thankfully much milder than what many suffered) and found ourselves on day 3 feeling rested but tempted to be very bored.  I say tempted because in the moment of temptation to be bored from a pause in our doing, we chose to see the pause as a gift to just “be.”  In moments of pause, if we can move beyond frustration, we are offered the gift of reflection, the gift of perspective, and an opportunity to be thankful despite not knowing the future outcome this side of heaven; and perhaps a chance for a renewed and deeper appreciation that the mercies of God are new each day—mercies that offer each day as a hope-filled and new starting point in our lives.

I am not saying it is easy to find peace in moments of pause.  While in my late 20s I remember feeling like I’d been thrown into a great moment of pause when my sister, who was a young wife and mother of two, died suddenly in an accident.  It felt for me that the whole world should stop turning.  Yet, I was watching the world continue to spin.  I just wanted to scream “stop” to everyone.  I was not feeling any peace.  I was full of worry.  I wanted the world to pause because for me and everyone in the same orbit of life in which my sister had been a part, life had been forever altered.  Hitting the “resume” button would not change the end of the story.  Hitting resume simply meant facing all the uncertainty and grief of the days and years ahead.

Over the course of a lifetime, we have had other pause experiences in various forms.  You probably have, too; perhaps financial or job uncertainties, fragmented relationships, frightening diagnoses.  Each time the way forward has seemed uncertain, usually initially marked by a sudden sense of instability, panic, or chaos.  Yet, in the pause, in the moments of simply “being,” I have learned to make God my refuge, to find peace by trusting and resting in Him.  In developing a greater awareness of whose we are, we can find peace, rest, and hope in the face of otherwise daunting circumstances.

I think it is beautiful that in creating people as spiritual beings in physical form that in God’s great design He intentionally created a regular rhythm of pause in the form of Sabbath rest.  Jesus reiterated that Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  I’ll not get into the debate as to whether New Testament believers must honor Saturday or Sunday or any other specific day as Sabbath or not.  However, I think the principle of routinely practicing a regular rhythm of resting from labor and its associated worries, especially for worship and reflection, are important to the body and soul.  In fact, even modern studies support this practice as healthful.  I would assert that in this practice of a Sabbath rest we learn what it feels like to let go of our full dependence upon ourselves and to trust in God’s plan for tomorrow and the future.  Perhaps it is like an athlete who trains to learn muscle memory.  Athletes train so that a particular form just feels natural as they begin to always move in that form.  So as we take time daily and weekly to spend quiet time with the Lord, casting our cares upon Him and leaning into Him for strength and hope, we build our trust “muscles” and shape our thought patterns to abide in Christ more naturally.  Then, both in times of doing and in the times of pause, whether those times of pause are planned or brought about suddenly by interruptions, we can find ourselves being transformed so we more quickly focus our thoughts on the Lord as we learn to abide in the refuge of the Most High.

The writer of Ecclesiastes assures us that there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, and I would assert that many of those seasons or transitions involve moments or even longer periods of unexpected pause.  So as we desire to grow in Christ, I urge us all to practice making planned pauses a part of our routines, just as Jesus himself did, to spend time with the Father so we learn what it feels like to be aware of His presence and to hear His voice.  Then whether we are “doing” or find ourselves in unexpected and uncertain moments of just “being,” we can trust that when the resume button is pressed, that the Lord’s plans for us are good.


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